The Huskies visited Peace River on Saturday night, for the first matchup of the season against the Navigators. And fittingly for two great rivals, it was another close one.
Cody Hildebrand opened the scoring 14 minutes into the first, when he caught the Navigators on a bad change, and broke in alone on Bretton Stewart. Hildebrand was being hassled, but managed to slide the puck past Stewart on the blocker side. Just 28 seconds later, the Navs broke onto the scoresheet, when Josh Halcrow fired a point shot past Garrett Muir.
Late in the first, the Huskies got into penalty trouble, allowing the Navs a two-man advantage to close out the period. The Huskies coaching staff was upset with the officiating, but the penalty killers stood tall, and the score remained 1-1 after 20 minutes.
In the second, the Huskies caught a break. Kyle Porter stepped over the blue line and fired a weak-looking wrist shot that somehow beat Bretton Stewart. The puck looked to have hit the post, but before Porter could battle for the rebound, the referee blew the whistle, saying the original shot had scored. The Navigators complaints fell on deaf ears, and the Huskies had a 2-1 lead after the second period.
Peace River tied the game up four minutes into the third, when Alex Balfour stripped Linden Apsassin of the puck, and drove to the net, and shoving the puck past Muir.
But, after struggling on special teams early in the season, special teams proved key for the Huskies in this game. Cody Kalb gave the pups the lead for good, when he buried the rebound of a Jesse Disher point shot, for a powerplay goal. The Navigators had ten minutes remaining, but were unable to muster much offence, despite a couple of chances on the powerplay. Peace River would get one final chance, with another man-advantage in the final two minutes. But, after pulling Stewart for a six-on-four advantage, Luke McInerney beat a Navs defender to a loose puck, and fired the puck into the empty net, to give Fort St. John a 4-2 win.
The Huskies powerplay finished the game 1/6, while they killed all seven of Peace River’s powerplays (scoring once shorthanded). Coach Kalb said his powerplay unit still looked disorganized and static in the first period, but said it looked much better later in the game, including scoring a big goal. “The penalty kill has been good all year, we’ve got guys that are getting into the shooting lane, and blocking shots, and sacrificing their bodies – I’m really happy with our penalty kill.”
In all, it was the Huskies’ best defensive effort of the season, and coach Kalb seemed happy with his team’s effort. “It was a good road win in that sense. We brought down our goals against” said Kalb, indicating the forwards and defencemen had both worked hard. “And of course Garrett [Muir] was solid too” he added.
The Huskies added another player to their lineup on Saturday, as Brennan Billey played his first game of the season. “I’m glad to have him – he’s a real fireplug of a guy” says Kalb. “He’s got good speed and good skill and a lot of grit.”
For the Navigators, the team has seen wholesale changes over the off season. Just six players dressed on Saturday night who had been part of the team last season. For Coach Darcy Haugan, it’s been a struggle early on in the season, but he remains confident the team will come together.
Coach Haugan (runs 1:15): [asset|aid=2014|format=mp3player|formatter=asset_bonus|title=9bc965ab39f21b99d6f55a7f7db160f8-Coach Haugan_1_Pub.mp3]
Click here to listen to a highlights package from Saturday’s game. [asset|aid=2015|format=mp3player|formatter=asset_bonus|title=9bc965ab39f21b99d6f55a7f7db160f8-Huskies win 4-2 over Peace River Navigators_1_Pub.mp3]
The Huskies’ next action is a weekend homestand. Saturday night the pups host Whitecourt, followed by a Sunday tilt with Sexsmith.